Indic Loans in Chinese
These five examples are from Zhu Qingzhi, Some Linguistic Evidence for Early Chinese Cultural Exchange Between India and China (SPP #66, 1995), which may be obtained from SPP. A few other possibilities will be added from other sources. Except in one case ("water in hoofprint," which he feels must have originated on the Indian end, Zhu makes no decisions about directionality, and is content to observe that the pairs are very likely related. The Project's revised dates for the Chinese texts seem to clarify the situation, and to support his one India > China conclusion. Given the chronology of the first appearances in China, the directionality seems invariably to be India > China. In support of this, it seems that in most cases, the Indic usage is more widespread and more connected, within its own language, than the corresponding but more isolated Chinese one, and thus is more likely to be the "natural" or original form. All are loan translations rather than phonetic loanwords. The period of word adaptation, complete with the original sound of the word, was to come substantially later, with the direct presence of Indian persons and institutions on Chinese soil, which occurred only in the Latter Han (1st and 2nd centuries AD).
Arrangement here is by the probable date of the first Chinese occurrence.
NAMELESS FINGER. The primary term used in both Sanskrit and Chinese for the fourth finger.
- Skt ana:ma:, Ana:mika:, Pali Ana:mika:, Ch wu2-ming- jr3, all "nameless [finger]"
- India: Occurs in Vedic literature before the 05c
- China: MC 6A12 (c0275, from the northern Mencian school which had maintained contact with Chinese meditation tradition)
RABBIT = MOON. Supposedly based on a figure discerned in the markings on the moon.
- Skt sasin < sasa "rabbit," Ch tu4 "rabbit," both as symbols for the moon
- India: Occurs in late Vedic literature
- China: Tyen Wvn (c0275, a pre-Han text from a non-Sinitic state on the Yangdz River, the trade artery from China to India)
WATER IN HOOFPRINT as a symbol for shallowness and limitation.
- Skt gospada, Pali gopada, gopadaka, Ch nyou-tsvn
- India: Pali term in Anguttara-Nikaya (03c?)
- China: HNZ 13 (c0148, a text compiled in South China). We are now in the Han dynasty, when contacts with India are well documented
THE PLANET VENUS described as "white."
- Skt sukra / sveta, Ch tai-bai, both "[great] white [one]"
- India: Occurs in Vedic literature
- China: Another term,"dawn star," was used in pre-Chin times
- Ch tai-bai "great white" first appears in SJ 27 (c0115). A Han syncretic text, a generation later than the above.
COW YELLOW = BEZOAR
- Skt gorocana = Ch nyou-hwang, both semantically "cow/ox + yellow"
- India: Post-Vedic; common in Buddhist literature
- China: Bvn Tsau (Han or later; date uncertain, and there were many revisions)
Zhu's study is not without its limitations. One is ignorance of the chronology on the Chinese side, which we have here tried to supply. A few further points:
- The earliest of these loan translations (MC 6) is from the early middle 03c.
- At that time, the Jwangdz material was also being composed and collected. Since there are many Indicisms in the Jwangdz ( a separate study of these, made years ago, is forthcoming in our journal), it is more plausible than the lone Mencius example would make it, that there was linguistic contact between India and China at this time.
- Chinese traders were at the great Central Asian entrepot of Bactria not later than 0327 (the year in which Alexander Hellenized that conquest, populating the capital with thousands of his own soldiers; see our Alexandrian monograph). It is not impossible that, by 50 years later, they had gone beyond Bactria to cross the Khyber pass and reach Taxila on their own, thus eliminating a few middleman. So the picture of economic expansionare which various other data imply is itself commercially reasonable.
- Zhu considers only Sanskrit on the Indian end. It is at least as likely that Chinese traders encountered their Indian counterparts in the Indic vernacular of the time. We could use further work on the linguistic probabilities at the Indian end, particularly in view of the use of colloquial ("Pali," though that term is slightly anachronistic) in Asoka's inscriptions and in a text of economic importance, the Arthashastra, written then and later, in which the Sanskrit of the text is peppered with Pali-isms.
Further examples, or comments on these examples, from either side of the Himalayas, are welcome.
22 Jan 2001 / Contact The Project / Exit to Resources Page